By Jessie Schwartz
Panama Rocks is an area treasure for all nature lovers, hikers, and geology and history nerds alike! Located 15 minutes from Bemus Point in Chautauqua County, Panama Rocks is an adventure waiting to happen. The open season runs from May through October each year and, according to the park’s website, Panama Rocks has been ranked Chautauqua County’s No. 1 rated attraction by TripAdvisor for five years running. Whether you are looking to spend an hour or an afternoon, a family or couple or just a big kid at heart, Panama Rocks has something special that you have to see and experience to believe.
The park was established in 1885 by George Hubbard and originally called the “Rock Farm.” Sightseers from as far as the Buffalo area would travel by railroad to nearby Ashville, then seven miles by stagecoach, to check out the unique jungle-like scenery. Rock formations that rise to 1,650 feet above sea level create many coves and deep cavernous dens that invite curious exploration for anyone wanting to venture off of the present-day mile long hiking trail. As word spread back in the day, the Rock Farm quickly became a popular destination for lovers who could sneak into any one of the many niches to steal a kiss, away from onlookers. Like Niagara Falls today, Panama Rocks soon became a cool honeymoon destination for newlyweds as captured by photographer Fred L. Yeager throughout his lifetime.
Panama Rocks tells a captivating geologic story going back hundreds of millions of years ago. The formations of Panama Rocks boast one of the most extensive half mile long specimens of ocean quartz conglomerate in the world, cut by glaciers during the Ice Age. At the park the stone mixture is also referred to as “Panama Conglomerate” and made up of white quartz, tan colored flint and a rosy-amber colored spar. All of the coves, crevices and openings found at Panama Rocks have been created naturally, over hundreds of years, after being subjected to repeated freezing, thawing and pressure while simultaneously being pulled downward by gravity. Following the Ice Age came much warmer temperatures during the Champlain Period where cypress and semi-tropical vegetation thrived. North American elephants and Mastodons roamed the land and much later, the late 1800s; remains of a Mastodon were discovered nearby just north of Jamestown, NY. Eventually, as time passed and climates changed further, the conditions were suitable for what we see at Panama Rocks today – trees like black ash, hemlocks and beech.
With the passage of time, there is an amazing human history to be told and imagined as well. During the Stone Age, people likely sought shelter and protection in the caves and caverns. When visiting Panama Rocks, you can easily picture humans hunting abundant wildlife on the land and using the rock formations to keep fires from being extinguished and colder crevices to store meats and prevent them from rotting. According to the park’s website, Mound Builder arrowheads going back 3-5,000 years ago have been discovered at Panama Rocks. Native Americans fought French explorers when they arrived in the area and later the Allegany River Trail that passed below Panama Rocks became a much traveled route giving way to the Panama area’s growth as a community and bustling town. It is believed that, in the 1800s, the rocks at Panama were used by outlaws to stash their loot. There are many stories and folklore found from the 1800s that are well published and also passed down from generations akin to stories of the “wild, wild west” many people are more familiar with hearing about. The human history surrounding and including the Panama Rocks area gives present day visitors a sense of adventure, curiosity and wanting to investigate and search for treasures bound to be discovered!
Panama Rocks is set to host the Wild America Nature Festival July 29th and 30th this year and will feature nature artists including painters Thomas Paquette and Michael DiGiorgio, local food, live music and animals as well as nationally renowned authors Douglas Tallamy and Michael Phillips. There will be workshops available as well as activities for all ages. For more information visit http://www.wildamericafest.com.
Panama Rocks Park is open May-October 10 a.m.-5 p.m. with last entrance at 4 p.m. The mile-long hiking trail is relatively easy to navigate and most visitors enjoy venturing off the trail to explore more. Suitable footwear is highly recommended and the trail is not stroller or wheelchair friendly, there are tree roots, rocks and uneven ground throughout however a backpack style child carrier is do-able. No disposable items are allowed in the park to help protect the natural habitats and pets are not permitted. Day or Season passes are affordable and group discounted rates available. For more information visit www.panamarocks.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (716)782-2845. Panama Rocks is privately owned by hosts Craig and Sandra Weston.